Biography of The Doors
"I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no other meaning."
The Doors are somewhat of an anomaly in the rock pantheon. They weren't part of the peace and love Airplane-Dead-Quicksilver acid-rock movement of San Francisco. They had nothing to do with the English invasion, or even conventional pop music for that matter. Even in their home town of Los Angeles they were considered a world apart from the predominantly folk-rock peerage of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and The Papas.
The Doors were never part of any movement. Indeed, during an era of very high fliers, their visionary trajectory sought an orbit positioned well outside of the rock norm. Their journey was driven by a unique group vision and a determination to push the envelope of poetry, spirituality, intellect and psycho-sexual exploration in popular music as far as possible.
From their beginnings during the summer of 1965 at Venice Beach, California, The Doors were truly a band--a remarkable fusion of creative energies, a lot of attention has been focused on Jim Morrison which his looks and talents clearly justify. However, Jim was well aware that the magic of The Doors could never have happened without the fortunate forging of John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison into a single creative whole. It is no mystery why Jim Morrison never went solo; so sympathetic were the three other musicians to Jim's mission that such a consideration was out of the question. Robby Krieger, for example, was able to write lyrics and music that sounded more like Morrison than Morrison himself-- among them "Light My Fire," "Love Me Two Times," and "Love Her Madly."
In 1965, Jim Morrison (vocals) and Ray Manzarek (keyboards/keyboardbass) were at film school in LA, working on projects together, when they realized they also shared an interest in music. After the classically trained keyboard player began to add Morrison's poetry to a blues soundtrack, they joined garage rockers (Ray's brothers) Rick & The Ravens. However, they soon discovered a more inspired backing from two buddies who had previously been employed by The Psychedelic Rangers. Robbie Kreiger (guitar) had been raised on a diet of Chicago blues and this, coupled with flamenco-style guitar tuition and exposure to R&B radio, had helped him to forge a unique style, while John Densmore (drums) was a would-be beatnik frequenting clubs such as Shelley Manne's Hole, listening to John Coltrane and the rants of Allen Ginsberg.
Taking the name The Doors from Aldous Huxley's The Doors Of Perception, the quartet put a year into rehearsal and songwriting, which led to bookings on Sunset Strip and eventually a residency at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. Throughout 1966, The Doors played alongside the rising stars of the day, including The Byrds and Van Morrison's Them. The two Morrisons became close, jamming together and comparing notes on blues standards.
In the early months, Morrison tended to slink around in the shadows with his back to the crowd, but soon his acid-influenced musings inspired him to strike more heroic poses, such as using the mike stand as a penile extension. This is not to say that the music was of lesser interest, though, and tracks like the cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Back Door Man" were of sufficient quality to impress the LA cognoscenti. Love's Arthur Lee recommended that Jac Holzman, head of Elektra Records, should witness the small-scale performances while he had the chance, and Holzman had to fend off Frank Zappa and Columbia Records in his bid to sign the band.
Made with the addition of bass player Doug Labahn, The Doors (1967) was hailed by a billboard on Sunset Boulevard - the first of its kind for a rock act. Holzman had discovered a hit-making team who, having won the affections of LA's alternative society, had set their sights on the FM radio audience. Much has been made of The Doors' dramatic delivery of poetic lyrics set to a classic rock beat, but from the beginning they were open to compromise, editing epics such as "Light My Fire" for single release. And though The Doors were mixing with the monarchs of drug culture, Jefferson Airplane, and sharing a press agent with The Beatles, who were entering their Maharishi phase, they remained largely untouched by the escapist philosophies embraced by lesser 'Summer Of Love' merchants.
By Christmas of 1967 they had emerged from Sunset Sound Studios with another strong album, Strange Days (1967), which did not stray far from the territory explored on the debut, though a more sophisticated style was becoming apparent. Ballads such as the title track and "Unhappy Girl" rested next to the more compelling single releases, "Love Me Two Times" and "People Are Strange", while the album also provided a showcase for some of Morrison's poetry in the shape of "Horse Latitudes". These songs confirmed that The Doors were not viewing life through the rose-tinted granny glasses of peace and love - their salvation came in the form of sex and death.
Labahn was replaced on bass by Leroy Vinegar for the more understated Waiting For The Sun (1968), which nevertheless returned them to the #1 spot in the US album charts and gave them a second chart-topping single in "Hello I Love You". It was also noteworthy for its inclusion of the schismatic anthem, "Five To One", and the chant on the futility of war, "The Unknown Soldier". A version of the latter song was captured by a British TV crew, and became one of the highlights of the documentary The Doors Are Open.
The Doors consolidated their accomplishments on record with a succession of hectic tours, but Morrison in particular was tiring of their contradictory image -shamanistic leaders to some and teenybop idols to others. Elektra's original biography quoted Morrison's interests as 'revolt, disorder, chaos and any activity that seems to have no meaning' and, as the touring progressed, he backed this up with ever more negative behaviour. He soaked himself in alcohol and exposed his companions to temperamental outbursts: he blighted recording sessions by destroying equipment, and disrupted live shows with self-indulgent displays of mock sex and profanities. Yet The Doors' musical creativity did not suffer as much as might have been expected. The Soft Parade (1969) may have been their weakest effort, but attempts to emulate the experimentation employed by contemporaries such as The Beach Boys and Love sometimes paid off, notybly on Kreiger's "Running Blue", where a horn section was given free rein to create an improvised jazz backing. However, the finished album was far from being the group's Smile or Sergeant Pepper, and Morrison's frustration was apparent in a series of live fiascos, which culminated in March 1969 with what was to become known as the 'Flasher Incident'. The concert, in an overcrowded Florida auditorium, was seen as the beginning of the end for Morrison. The police were probably the only ones sober enough to have seen anything but the charge of 'lewd and lascivious behaviour' resulted in a string of legal battles which were to haunt Morrison until his death.
The group retreated to the studio and returned to form with Morrison Hotel (1970). Producer Paul Rothchild recommended that they adopt a more instinctive approach, spending less time searching for the perfect take. The impression was of a band returning to their roots and it was fitting that their playing was complemented by some raw blues bass from the legendary Lonnie Mack. The more spartan sound was an unqualified success and the fears raised by the over-orchestration of the previous album were confounded.
The furor caused by the Miami bust had resulted in an enforced break in touring, but The Doors had made enough tenable recordings in the concert halls to justify a live album and Absolutely Live(1970) went some way towards capturing The Doors' live experience. While there was little of the hair-raising mid-60s material in its grooves, the medley of "Alabama Song", "Back Door Man" and "Five To One" was a fitting finale.
The Doors' recording renaissance continued apace with L.A. Woman (1971), which this time featured Jerry Scheff as bassist. This collection of visceral songs was an artistic success, but the band's leader was growing distant from his fellow Doors and at the turn of the decade they embarked on a tour of the Southern US which was to be their last. As Morrison's live performance became more erratic and his off-stage persona more introverted, it became an unspoken certainty that he was to leave.
In March 1971, Morrison and his girlfriend Pamela moved to Paris with the intention of starting a new life there. The couple were both dogged by drug and alcohol problems, and their stay reached a grievous conclusion on July 4, when the 28-year-old singer was found dead in his bathtub. Speculation abounded as to the exact cause of death - no autopsy was performed - but it seems likely that Morrison's body finally gave in to the rigours of Morrison's Nietzschean belief in 'delicious ecstasy.'
Pamela Morrison used to tell a story from the very earliest day of The Doors. They were playing their first club, The London Fog. It was their last set of the night and there were only three people in the club, two drunks and Pamela. The band was incandescent. Jim raged and exploded with super-human passion-- a transcendent performance. Pam was stunned. In the car she could say nothing...long after arriving home she was still speechless. Jim asked, "What's wrong baby?" Pam said, "There were three people in the club during the last set. But you burned like you were performing for thousands of people. Why did you go so far, risk so much for a tiny audience that was barely aware of your presence?" Jim looked at her and said slowly, "You never know when you're doing your last set."
Morrison had collapsed when he removed himself from the support of the band, and the remaining Doors could not survive without their leader, though they kept the name alive for two more albums, Other Voices (1971) and Full Circle(1972). Titles such as "I'm Horny And I'm Stoned" would not have seemed out of place in a Spinal Tap pastiche, and it was not long before they went their separate ways, Manzarek to concentrate on solo efforts, while his partners formed The Butts Band. The surviving Doors were drawn together once more to record An American Prayer (1978). Pre-empting The Beatles by almost twenty years, they took a selection of poetry which Morrison had committed to tape on his final birthday and spent eighteen months recording backing music for the album he had dreamed of making. The album was a valid project, even though Morrison's original intention was to compile an orchestral backing for this material, but The Doors' action was seen by many, including Paul Rothchild, as tantamount to artistic rape, and the resulting instrumental meanderings lacked direction.
After the Oedipal nightmare of "The End" was employed as a theme song for the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, The Doors were held in near-mythical regard throughout the 80s. No One Here Gets Out Alive, the memoirs of Morrison's young confidant Danny Sugarman, acted as a blueprint for countless rockers who wished to emulate their benighted hero, while the music inspired countless bands like The Stranglers, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cult. They have continued with musical ventures such as Manzarek's version of Carmina Burana and production work for bands such as X. Tribute bands such as The BackDoors and Mojo Risin have attempted to re-create the original magic for cult audiences across the globe, but as far as The Doors themselves are concerned, the music is truly over.
Jim Morrison - Vocals
Robby Krieger - Guitar
Ray Manzarek - Keyboards
John Densmore - Drums